The Owens River flows through a flat high desert valley of grasses and sagebrush. Access off of Benton Crossing provides an almost Drive-Thru fishery. Seriously, most access roads come within 25 yards of flowing water. The Upper Owens goes even further than easy drive-up access for us anglers - no trees, willows or large brush here! Yes, the unobstructed back-cast to lengths exceeding the total distance of your flyline and backing.
But, like a bear following the smell of bacon gease into a big cylinder welded to a trailer, I came to learn the wonderful access and open back-cast of the Upper Owens is a bit like the bear-trap. The smell of bacon is so hard to resist! You just run to the bank of the Owens and begin launching big, long, loops over huge stretches of water to hit the opposite back at 70 feet. And unfortunately, that kind of thinking really doesn't lead to the plate of cooked bacon. As someone who's ate very little real bacon on the Upper Owens, I know of what I say.
So how's the Upper Owens a trap? In an ironic sort of a trade-off, what anglers gain in access and unobstructed casting, the fish gain in hearing us march up to the river's edge and in seeing us launch long casts into water they probably where holding in before we arrived. There are well-known remedies for shifting the odds back in our favor, and they are way easier than counting cards. Rather than detail the remedies, I would recommend picking up the August 2013 issue of California Fly Fisher and read the article by Jerome Buckmelter on Catching Trout Off Guard. He basically spells out the techniques that really make a difference on a piece of water like the spring fed Upper O. In fact, he even mentions the Upper Owens in making the case for these techniques.
Jerome wrote: Many years ago, my teenage sons observed the DFG electroshocking the upper Owens River on the former Arcularius Ranch near the rivers headwaters. Two fly fishers, after nymphing a shallow run without success, told my boys that there were no fish in that stretch of water just as the DFG staff were setting up for the census taking. Out of curiousity, my boys decided to hang around and observe the electroshocking. They were amazed to see that the section that had "no fish" actually produced many fish and some big ones, two in the 24-inch range. The lesson is that you really do not know what a likely looking spot might be holding. If you want to become a better fly fisher or want to increase your chances of catching more and bigger fish, you may want to be more stealthy.